Really no to the Kasambahay Bill

is my Trade Tripper column for this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld:

Following my articles on the Kasambahay Bill ("No to the Kasambahay Bill," 14 September 2012; "Still no to the Kasambahay Bill," 21 September 2012), the feedback I received (whether in agreement or not) has consolidated in my mind the utter absence of necessity for such a law. The intended Kasambahay Law would merely encourage people’s sense of entitlement. It would also ridiculously abandon the idea that rewards should be based on merit.

The main problem of the bill is that it stands on a patently unfair generalization: that the middle class abuses, underpays, and commits violence against household help. But that is simply untrue. Most Filipinos that hire household help are decent people who, as per our culture, treat such help as members of their own family.

Furthermore, it quite significantly ignores the fact that existing laws already give sufficient protection to household help in a manner that took into consideration the very personal, practically familial, circumstance of Filipino house helpers in relation to their Philippine employers.

Aside from the Constitution and the preliminary provisions of the Civil Code, the latter also contains at least eleven articles specifically addressing household help (see Articles 1689-1699). Thus, household service "shall always be reasonably compensated. Any stipulation that household service is without compensation shall be void. Such compensation shall be in addition to the house helper’s lodging, food, and medical attendance." Also, the "head of the family shall furnish, free of charge, to the house helper, suitable and sanitary quarters as well as adequate food and medical attendance."

Not only that, if "the house helper is under the age of eighteen years, the head of the family shall give an opportunity to the house helper for at least elementary education. The cost of such education shall be a part of the house helper’s compensation, unless there is a stipulation to the contrary." And, notably, the "head of the family shall treat the house helper in a just and humane manner. In no case shall physical violence be used upon the house helper."

But there’s more: House helpers "shall not be required to work more than ten hours a day. Every house helper shall be allowed four days’ vacation each month, with pay." The employment can also only be terminated in a just manner, as specifically provided for in Articles 1697-1699.

As I kept emphasizing, maids that are found working well are compensated generously in this country. But we should not be idealizing them, their plight, or the poor in general. I received countless accounts from friends and readers who advanced transportation for new maids, only for them to not show up (along with the money), of maids who steal, or abandon the house or the employers’ children just like that, of maids who surreptitiously use landlines of their employer and leave the latter thousands of pesos in debt to the phone company.

Add the numerous incidents involving maids of working age who -- pleading ignorance -- carelessly destroyed clothes to be laundered, appliances, china, or food. But possessing higher education isn’t necessary to do work properly. Besides, how ignorant can they be if they can operate cellphones incessantly even during work hours? Notably, the problems I described are not even limited to Filipino employers. As one sociology paper found ("Sexuality and Discipline Among Filipina Domestic Workers in Hong Kong," American Ethnologist 1997, Nicole Constable): "Filipina domestic workers in Hong Kong are viewed as sexually threatening and thus in need of strict discipline."

And again this must be emphasized: the glossy generalization of household help and the negative generalization against the middle class ignore the fact that middle class employers practically have no remedy against erring or malicious maids. Sue them for damages? But with what money could the maids pay the damages awarded? Will the police be willing to hunt down maids who, because they simply felt like it, abandoned their employers? Besides, what is the need for a Kasambahay Bill if maids today are practically entitled to get away with any infraction or incompetence simply by uttering "’sensya na po?"

Of course we want to help every fellow Filipino. But that help must be done with clear eyes and rational thought. As noted economics commentator Nonoy Oplas pointed out: "There are different causes of poverty, there are different types of the poor, and there are different aspirations by the poor. Thus, ‘fighting poverty’ as if there is only one type of the poor, or as if the poor have only one aspiration, often results in expanding the lot of the poor, or creating new poor.’

If we must have such laws, let it be that which promotes accountability, responsibility, and merit. But if a Kasambahay Law (as it’s drafted now) gets enacted, then it would be better, particularly for those of the middle class, not to hire maids anymore. Better save your money and just do the chores you can do better anyway.